Since their introduction in the 1960s, carbon composite materials have revolutionised the production of everything from spacecraft to racing cars. They offer a seemingly miraculous combination of light weight, high strength and great stiffness. But even after more than half a century of development, there are still applications where these incredible materials are hard to apply with traditional techniques.

Since their introduction in the 1960s, carbon composite materials have revolutionised the production of everything from spacecraft to racing cars. They offer a seemingly miraculous combination of light weight, high strength and great stiffness. But even after more than half a century of development, there are still applications where these incredible materials are hard to apply with traditional techniques.

Composite specialist SHAPE Machining developed its innovative ShapeTex process to address these challenges. It enables existing carbon composite materials to be used in applications where their remarkable properties were previously off-limits.

The process works by laying down individual strands of fibre extremely accurately, to generate highly detailed designs. It allows the fibres to be laid in different directions to tailor the part’s strength and stiffness without wasting vast amounts of material.

Based in the heart of the UK’s Motorsport Valley, SHAPE was founded by former Lola and Super Aguri engineer Peter McCool in 2014. The company specialises in five-axis CNC tooling for the carbon fibre industry. It also offers an engineering service for tooling design and part design, as well as carrying out in-house cutting.

Recent expansion has seen the addition of an engineering team, with CAD and project management skills, as well as a composites manufacturing team for carbon thermoset and thermoplastic R&D, low volume part manufacture and hot press forming for higher volumes. Financial backing for the company comes from a team of international investors with many years of experience in developing and guiding cutting-edge manufacturing companies to success.

When it came to developing ShapeTex, McCool and his colleagues turned to the Advanced Propulsion Centre’s Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP). As part of the programme, they received access to financial support for R&D, supply chain development and market entry, along with assistance on developing their commercial strategy and business plans. Supported by this process, SHAPE was able to produce a prototype part that highlighted the benefits of the new process.

“Creating a prototype part that our customers could use was a key milestone in our growth strategy,” comments McCool. “The TDAP process was hassle-free and we were very well supported throughout the project. There was a lot of help with the business plan, the technical strategy and protecting the IP. I’d certainly recommend the TDAP programme.”

Thanks partly to the support of the TDAP programme, SHAPE has made significant strides in refining its process and commercialising its technology. In doing so, it’s helping to bring the benefits of carbon composites to previously untapped markets.

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